Amalia True’s Parasol of Fury: Did Late Victorian-Era Women Really Use Weaponized Umbrellas?

In the alternate history of Joss Whedon’s new TV series The Nevers, a mysterious event in the skies over London during 1896 leaves a minority of the population endowed with bizarre, apparently supernatural powers. Three years later, the sociopolitical establishment has come to view this newly potent underclass – known collectively as “the Touched”, whose members are mostly women, immigrants and so-called “deviants” – as a potential threat to the status quo.

As we join the story, the Touched are slowly gathering around the dynamic team of Amalia True (Laura Donnelly) and Penance Adair (Ann Skelly), who manage a refuge/community known as the Orphanage. The Misses True and Adair are, themselves, in possession of supernatural endowments; Penance’s ability to perceive potential energies translates into a genius-level skill at mechanical invention, whereas Amalia experiences “ripples” of the time continuum, affording her flashes of insight into future events.

Amalia True is also a startlingly gifted hand-to-hand fighter, though her ability in that sphere is yet to be explained within the story. In the first episode she makes adroit use of a weaponised parasol reminiscent of the combat umbrellas used by Kingsman agents; it’s not only sturdy enough to deal devastating blows when swung as a club, but it also comes equipped with an electrical charge powerful enough to render opponents unconscious and an elaborate mechanical “knuckle duster” built into the handle.

Miss True’s parasol does have some historical precedent, albeit just a few years after 1899, when the action of The Nevers is primarily set. Notably, during the Parisian Apache (street gangster) panic of the very early 20th century, there arose a middle-class fad for combat-ready walking canes equipped with concealed guns and blades. At about the same time, Marguerite Vigny – the wife of former Bartitsu Club instructor Pierre Vigny – was teaching her unique adaptation of her husband’s stick fighting system specifically as a means of self-protection for ladies, who customarily carried umbrellas and parasols rather than gentlemanly canes.

Madame Vigny

Finally, members of the Suffragette Bodyguard society as fictionalised in the 2015 graphic novel trilogy Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons also employ reinforced combat parasols, nicknamed “Sanderson Specials”:

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